This Week in Auto Racing Aug. 22 - 24

( - The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are racing at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. The IndyCar Series is running at Sonoma Raceway, and Formula One is back in action with the Belgian Grand Prix.


Sprint Cup Series

Irwin Tools Night Race - Bristol Motor Speedway - Bristol, Tennessee

With three races remaining in the regular season, 12 drivers have clinched a spot in the 16-member Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

All 12 drivers have at least one win this year and are well ahead of the 31st- place driver in the point standings.

Right now, Matt Kenseth is the highest-ranked driver in points (fifth) without a win this season. Kenseth sits 13th on the provisional "NASCAR Chase Grid."

Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle are 9th-11th, respectively, in points, and they are 14th-16th on the grid in that order.

The Sprint Cup Series is running at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night. After Bristol, the series heads to Atlanta (Aug. 31) before the regular season concludes at Richmond (Sept. 6).

Surprisingly, Kenseth has not scored a victory in 2014 after winning the most races in the series last year with seven.

"We want to win, and we've been doing the best that we can do every week," Kenseth said. "Obviously with the season that we had last year, I didn't think we would be sitting here at the end of August without a win, for sure."

Kenseth has won a Sprint Cup race at Bristol three times, including a victory in the night race here one year ago. He finished 13th at this track in March.

"I enjoy coming to Bristol, and the last few races here, we've had really fast cars," he said. "We were fortunate enough to win one of them but wrecked in others. So I'm hoping this is our turn to win one. I like racing here. It's always really challenging, really fast with these cars."

Jeff Gordon earned his third victory of the season last weekend at Michigan, which guaranteed that at least one winless driver will qualify for the Chase. Kenseth presently holds a 30-point advantage over Newman, the next highest- ranked winless driver.

But Kenseth has had his share of misfortunes lately, finishing 38th in two of the last three races. Kenseth was involved in a 13-car crash in the late going at Pocono, and at Michigan, he was caught up in an early-race multi-car wreck that was triggered by Danica Patrick.

"We've just been caught up in a lot of stuff," Kenseth said. "Last week, the 10 car [Patrick] spun out in front of us and got caught up in that wreck. Just been caught up in a lot of stuff that has really cost us a lot of good finishes. Even though they're not all DNFs on the stat sheet, there's a lot of races that we weren't running competitively at the end because we've been in an accident.

"So to still be where we are in points, I guess, is a good thing, especially with all of the trouble that we've had. But certainly we want to win."

Kenseth's most recent victory in the series occurred last September at New Hampshire.

In last year's night race at Bristol, Kenseth and Kasey Kahne waged one of the memorable battles from the 2013 season. Both drivers fought each other hard for the lead in the closing laps, running side-by-side multiple times. But Kenseth ended up beating Kahne to the finish line by just 0.2 seconds.

Kahne won at Bristol for the first time in March 2013. He finished eighth here earlier this year.

"Every time we race at Bristol, I look forward to it." Kahne said. "We've ran really well there for a while now."

Kahne is currently 17th on the Chase grid but trails Biffle by just nine points. Kahne has not won a Sprint Cup race since August '13 at Pocono.

Rookie drivers Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson are 18th and 19th on the Chase grid. Dillon is 22 points behind Biffle, while Larson trails by 24. Marcos Ambrose sits 20th on the grid (-44).

Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the IRWIN Tools Night Race.

Nationwide Series

Food City 300 - Bristol Motor Speedway - Bristol, Tennessee

Kyle Busch's triple duty at Bristol Motor Speedway this week continues with Friday night's 300-lap Nationwide Series race.

Busch, a Sprint Cup Series regular, kicked off his week at Bristol with the 200-lap Camping World Truck Series event, which was scheduled for Wednesday night but postponed until the following day due to rain. Despite starting on the pole and leading a total of 81 laps, Busch finished a disappointing 24th after he experienced a flat tire and made slight contact with the wall with less than 25 laps to go.

Brad Keselowski scored his first victory in the Truck Series at Bristol, leading a total of 119 laps.

Busch is hoping for better luck in the Nationwide race. He has a series- leading seven wins at this track, including victories in the last three events here.

When Nationwide ran at Bristol in March, Matt Kenseth, who is Busch's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, led 178 of 300 laps, but Busch grabbed the top spot with 91 laps to go when Kenseth was caught up in lapped traffic.

"The spring race was special for us," said Busch, the driver of the No. 54 Toyota for JGR in Nationwide. "We started to get into a rhythm where we could win some races. It has been a good season, but we have more work to do still. The night race at Bristol is a tougher nut to crack, the way the track changes from practice to the race. [Crew chief] Adam [Stevens] and I feel confident going into it though and hope to visit that rooftop victory lane together again."

Busch holds the record for most career wins in Nationwide with 66. He has not been to victory lane in the series since May 31 at Dover. Busch has finished second in his last three starts -- New Hampshire, Indianapolis and Watkins Glen.

Kyle Larson, who drives the No. 42 Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports, has finished second to Busch twice in the last three Nationwide races at Bristol, including a runner-up earlier this year.

"I've had good runs here in the past and came really close to winning last time, but I've never been able to close the deal at the end," Larson said.

Larson is in his rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series, driving the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Chase Elliott, a rookie in Nationwide this year, enters this race with a 10- point lead over second-place and JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith. Elliott Sadler is 16 points behind, while Ty Dillon, also a rookie this season, trails by 28.

Forty-five teams are on the entry list for the Food City 300.


GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma - Sonoma Raceway - Sonoma, California

After winning last Sunday's race at The Milwaukee Mile, Will Power has put himself in great position to claim his first IndyCar Series championship.

Just two races remain. The series is running at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California on Sunday and then heads to the southern part of the state for the Aug. 30 season-finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

Power, who scored his 24th career IndyCar win but just his third on an oval, increased his points lead from four to 39 over Helio Castroneves, his Team Penske teammate, at Milwaukee.

The 33-year-old Australian started on the pole and put on a dominating performance at Milwaukee, leading 229 of 250 laps. Castroneves was never a factor in that race, as he started eighth and finished 11th.

Power won last year's races at Sonoma and Fontana, which gives him a lot of confidence heading into the final two events this season.

"The win at Milwaukee last weekend was very gratifying, almost as much as my win at Auto Club Speedway last year," Power said. "I really had a lot of confidence coming into the year about Milwaukee, so it's nice that we were able to realize our potential there.

"Certainly, we are in a good position going into the last two weeks of the season. We have a lot of confidence in our ability as a team at Sonoma and Auto Club Speedway, but there is still over 150 points on the table, with Fontana being a double-points race. Our path is easier now, but it's by no means easy."

Power is the only driver with multiple IndyCar victories at Sonoma. He won back-to-back races at this track from 2010-11 and then scored his third victory here one year ago. Power finished second at Sonoma in 2012.

"Sonoma is just a very technical racetrack," he said. It's a place where you have to really hit your marks and be precise. For whatever reason, that fits my driving style perfectly.

"After the test at Sonoma a couple of weeks ago, it seems like we'll have another fast one this weekend. We're going for wins. That's what got us here, and that's what will keep us in the points lead."

Castroneves is a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner but has yet to win an IndyCar championship. He remains positive that it can happen this year.

"You just have to put last weekend out of your mind, knowing that you are probably going to lose even more points at Sonoma if you hang on too long to what happened in Milwaukee," Castroneves said. "Will did exactly what he needed to do last weekend. Now we need to come out and have that same kind of maximum-points weekend either this weekend or next weekend at Auto Club Speedway."

Castroneves has one victory at Sonoma (2008). He finished seventh here last year.


Belgian Grand Prix - Spa-Francorchamps Circuit - Spa, Belgium

After taking a three-week "summer vacation," Formula One begins the second half of its season with this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix.

Nico Rosberg enters round 12 of the 19-grand prix season with just an 11-point lead over his teammate, Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, who won the most recent grand prix on July 27 in Hungary, is third in the world championship standings, a distant 71 points behind.

Rosberg posted the fastest lap during the opening practice session for the Belgian GP on Friday, while Hamilton led the way in the second practice. Hamilton's lap in 1 minute, 49.189 seconds, set in P2, was the fastest overall for the day.

The final practice session is scheduled for Saturday, shortly before qualifying. Weather will likely be a factor, with a 70 percent chance of rain in the forecast.

"It's great to be back in the car, and it was feeling good out there today," Hamilton said. "The morning wasn't as strong, but it definitely improved in the afternoon. It stayed dry throughout both sessions, but the forecast is wet for tomorrow, so it was important to maximize track time, as this may be our last dry running before the race."

In P1, Rosberg's best lap around the 4.352-mile (7.004-kilometer), 19-turn Spa-Francorchamps Circuit was clocked in 1:51.577. Hamilton was only 0.01 seconds behind him in that session. But the gap between first-place Hamilton and second-place Rosberg in P2 was considerably larger, 0.6 seconds.

"The interesting challenge for this weekend is to find the right compromise between being quick over one lap and over a long distance in the race, especially if it's wet tomorrow, with the predictions currently saying we will have mixed conditions," Rosberg said.

Hamilton has won the most grand prix this season with five, followed by Rosberg with four and Ricciardo two. They are the only drivers with victories in 2014. Ricciardo's maiden win in F1 occurred in the June 8 Canadian Grand Prix. He is in his first season with Red Bull after spending the past two years with Toro Rosso.

"It was really nice to get a couple of wins in the first 11 races, so the confidence and motivation for myself and the team is really high," Ricciardo said.

Ricciardo's teammate, Sebastian Vettel, the four-time defending F1 world champion, has finished no better than third this season and is sixth in the point standings (-114). Vettel won each of the last nine races in 2013, a streak that began in Belgium.